The following is a short piece I wrote for the Occupy Writers website:
I’m a fiction writer, so…nobody likes a good story more than I do. Thing is, there are fiction stories and nonfiction stories. And the difference matters. If you don’t believe me, ask James Frey.
Here are two stories. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is true.
Story number one:
Once upon a time there was a country called America, which wasn’t quite right, because that was not its name. Its name was the United States of America, so just calling it America was a bit insensitive toward the Canadians and Costa Ricans and Chileans and Mexicans who were also Americans. But the people loved their country so much, I guess they got carried away.
This country was a land of opportunity. It was also a land of immigrants. They steamed into New York Harbor to be welcomed by a sign that said, “Give us your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
There was much freedom.
There was the freedom to speak freely, and assemble peaceably, and to criticize the government without fear of retribution. There was the freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was put down in writing. It was guaranteed.
Anybody could be rich, if they were willing to work hard. No matter who you were, or where you came from, you got your fair shot at the American Dream. And you didn’t even have to be asleep to enjoy it.
Story number two:
Once upon a time there was a country in great danger and distress. Those in power took more and more of the money until a majority of the people were struggling. They did this as much as it was legal to do so. Then they did it more than was legal. Then they realized money gave them the power to write new laws, so they made legal the taking of even more money, provided it was taken by them.
At first people wanted to believe that they, too, could become the rich. But the more time went by, the poorer the people got. How can so few hold down so many? The people have to be asleep. Or the plutocracy has to use force to suppress them.
Years went by, and the people woke up. And the plutocracy used force to suppress them. People were thrown to the pavement on their faces. Their eyes and throats were burned. Their skulls were fractured and their spleens lacerated. No plutocrats were arrested for taking too much of the money, but thousands of the people were arrested for minding. The United Nations had to draft a letter condemning these civil rights abuses, as they would with any country that commits civil rights abuses.
But, listen, plutocrats. Listen to the voices. In a world where minorities have gradually but consistently improved their rights by protest, how can you think that a 99% majority can be held back, once it’s awake? Perhaps it’s you who have been asleep and dreaming.
Of course, both of these stories could well be true. But not in the same country at the same time.
Story number three, which is definitely nonfiction:
My tiny town of Cambria, CA, U.S.A. has a population of only 6,000. So it’s not as insignificant as it may sound when 50 people show up to march with signs. First one Saturday. Then the next. Then the third Saturday of every month.
People carry signs that say, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention,” and, “Ignore your rights and they’ll go away.” My mother carries a sign that says, “I’m 89 and I’m mad as hell.” I carry a sign that says, “It’s not a recession, it’s a robbery.” And my video camera. My 15-pound dog wears a sign that says, “Tax the big dogs.”
We march to our branch of Bank of America, our only National Offender bank. It is most conveniently located at the corner of Main Street and…wait for it…Wall Street. Yes, Cambria has its own tiny Wall Street.
People honk and wave. They raise their thumbs. They raise their fists. A slumbering soul in the bank parking lot yells at us to, “Get a life! Get a job!” I do not yell back. I do not share my view that it takes a special kind of lunacy to tell others to get a job as they protest the lack of jobs in our current economy. I do not yell back, “What part of double-digit unemployment don’t you understand?” A woman marcher calmly tells him we have jobs. Yes, we all have jobs. We are not too lazy to work. We are the hard-working middle-class. That endangered species. We are working harder and harder and falling farther and farther behind. She doesn’t tell him all that. Just that we have jobs. He says he has a job, too. She wishes for him that he not lose it.
Mostly people honk and wave.
It’s not much, each of us individually. Unless you multiply it by the number of people in this country and subtract 1%.
Take a moment to savor that majority. We The Aggrieved are 99% of the population of the United States of America. Doesn’t that make us too big to fail?